Although perhaps he should not have been, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald said that he was taken by surprise when he was traded by the San Francisco 49ers to Pittsburgh in late August of last year, shortly before the regular season began.
I say that he should not have been surprised because his name was already floated around in trade circles as early as around the time of the draft, and the potential of him being moved was only made all the more likely after San Francisco used one of their draft picks on George Kittle.
But it didn’t take him long to get used to his new surroundings, including the city of Pittsburgh, which he compared favorably to San Francisco. “To me the town is so much more into football, that it is more of a lifestyle here”, he said. “You can feel that. It’s so fun to play in Pittsburgh. I have only been here one season, but you can definitely feel it”.
Even though the 49ers may have the second-most Super Bowl trophies in NFL history—tied with the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots in trailing the Steelers by one—the city of San Francisco has never really been viewed as a ‘football town’ that lives and breathes its sports team the way Pittsburgh does. At least not when they’re not perennially competing.
And the 49ers didn’t exactly do much of that while McDonald was there, in contrast with Pittsburgh, which has been to the playoffs for four straight years, reaching the AFC Championship game once and the Divisional Round three times.
He said that the Steelers have a tremendous advantage at Heinz Field that he didn’t feel in his home stadium while with the 49ers. “I don’t even think the fans realize how much they can bring to a game in terms of energy and the momentum they can bring to the home field”, he said, but “it’s a huge swing. There are so many things they can do. They bring so much support”.
He and his wife have experienced a small-town vibe in the city of Pittsburgh that is familiar to them, growing up in such regions, McDonald in southeast Texas and his wife in Oklahoma. “It reminds us a lot of where we grew up”, he told the team’s website. “it’s a great place”.
And it will only get better for him if he builds upon where he left off during the 2017 season, catching 10 passes for 112 yards in the Steelers’ postseason game. He struggled all season not just with injuries but with catching up to an offense that he was trying to learn on the fly, and it was difficult for him to get involved.
But he has the potential to be an every-down tight end for an explosive offense in 2018, and it appears the team has every intention of keeping him around and giving him that opportunity. It sounds like a good fit on both sides heading into the next season.